Former USA Triathlon president, Mike Greer, the 79-year-old Texas-drawl speaking, Harley-Davidson riding longtime race director has added another accolade to his storied 35-year triathlon career.
On Sunday, in the heart of his native Texas at Lake Alan Henry, Greer raced his 400th triathlon, completing the sprint distance course at the Off the Rock Triathlon Festival. Even more impressive than his age and the sheer number of races he’s completed over his career, Greer accomplished No. 400 13 months after suffering a stroke and receiving a pacemaker.
A successful businessman, triathlon/life coach and retired Lt. Colonel who served in the Army on active duty and the reserves, Greer also holds a doctorate in philosophy. Asked how he felt about his 400-triathlon milestone, Greer answered in true Socratic style.
“Being able to do eight triathlons after a stroke, is that luck or a blessing?” said Greer. “I’ve had lots of luck and lots of blessings.”
Count current USA Triathlon President Barry Siff among those who believe the sport of triathlon has been just as lucky and blessed to have Greer involved.
“Mike’s major contribution to the sport is his contagious spirit and the breadth of his volunteer activities, from his work as an official to being on the USAT Board of Directors, being President of USAT, the interim CEO at one point, and so much more. He is truly an inspiration to those who value the integrity of giving back,” Siff said.
The former president of USA Triathlon arrived at the sport later in life, doing his first event with a borrowed bike in 1984. A gifted athlete, Greer attended college on a football and track and field scholarship. He took up endurance running in the late 1970s and after 44 marathons — his fastest time was 3 hours, 35 minutes at age 41 — a friend urged him to try a triathlon.
That first event in 1984 was an 800-yard swim, a 32-mile bike ride through the Guadalupe Mountains and a 10K run.
“Even now it would be considered one of the hardest courses in Texas,” Greer said. “It wasn’t pretty, and I wasn’t fast, but I was hooked at that point.”
He quickly fell in love with the sport and eventually conquered seven IRONMAN races, including two finishes at IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Greer was nearly as prolific as a race director.
A Texas native, Greer launched and organized 50 events across the state and southwest, in Dallas, Odessa, Amarillo, Big Springs, and Roswell, New Mexico. Most notable of his races is IRONMAN 70.3 Buffalo Springs in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, which is now in its 29th year.
“You aren’t in race promotion for the money. It’s psychic income. I know I can’t make a deposit at the bank with it. But, I have people say, ‘This race has changed my life, this sport has changed my life.’ That right there, that keeps me going and keeps me here,” Greer said. “Just to know you’ve had a positive influence over someone you just met, that is cool.”
Greer joined the USAT Regional South Midwest board of directors followed by the National USAT board of directors in 1994. He never stopped competing. While president of USAT, he traveled from Maryland to Cleveland to Chicago on consecutive weekends to do triathlons.
“I was a (triathlon) junkie, I tell you. I just loved doing it,” Greer said.
While interim executive director of USA Triathlon in 2004-05, Greer listened when a USAT member with leg issues suggested an idea for a new race format featuring the swim and bike only. Greer worked to make the idea a reality and named the event “Aquabike.” For his contributions, Greer was inducted into the South Midwest USAT Hall of Fame and the Texas Triathlon Hall of Fame.
“His contribution has been his life-long passion and continuance to be progressive and help the sport no matter his age or his accomplishments,” said USA Triathlon Vice President Staci Brode, who is from Greer’s own South Midwestern Region.
An inspiration to older age-group athletes, Greer has authored two books, “Mind Management,” and “11 Points of Healthy Ageless Living.” He’s a grandfather to 14 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
“I can’t believe I’m this old,” said Greer, who turns 80 in December. “Aging, it’s come to surprise me.”
There was no denying age’s arrival in August of 2017. Greer was descending a hill on his bike when his left hand involuntarily seized the brake, tossing him over the handlebars. An MRI revealed he’d had a stroke. Doctors also found an ultra-slow heart rate that likely caused the stroke in the first place. Greer needed a pacemaker.
He feared his days of triathlon were over. But, he had no paralysis. His cardiologist, Dr. Guy Wells, who twice did the Race Across America bike event, understood his concern. The doctor said Greer would simply have to take it easy and stick to short courses. He raced his first post-stroke event in April. Seven more followed in quick succession this summer.
Sunday’s No. 400 was the sprint distance triathlon at Lake Alan Henry near Post, Texas. He shared the experience with his IRONMAN grandson, Cameron Richardson. Greer’s wife, Marti, who is director of the event, understands his need to stay in the game. Three years ago, she did IRONMAN Australia 70.3 just four months after surgery for breast cancer.
As for the future, Greer can’t wait for his doctors to give the greenlight to get back on his Harley Davidson Black Heritage Softail. As for triathlon, he isn’t going to stop, but he is going to stop counting.
“I know what would happen. I will reach 450 and say, ‘Why not 500?’” he said. “I considered retiring from triathlon all together, but I can’t imagine what that would be like. …To be able to come back (from the stroke) at all, I feel really, really good about it. To be able to swim, bike and run at all is amazing. I’m not going fast, I admit, but I’m out there. I’m blessed and lucky, lucky and glad.”
Scott Richardson is a USAT level 1 coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness in Normal, IL.
Learn more about Mike Greer, his coaching programs and his philosophy, visit Greercoach.com, where he asks the question; “Transitions. Life throws them at you. What are you throwing at them?”